A little drunk and a little disappointing, another Game has come and gone this fall, taking with it Thanksgiving break and most of first semester. And as always, the success of one of America’s oldest collegiate football rivalry weekend again will be measured not by the quality of events on the field but by the quality of those in the parking lot across the street.
By that standard, this year’s Game was pretty much a resounding failure for Harvard. More specifically, it was likely a drunken disappointment for the Harvard administrators who had hoped to curb binge drinking by banning kegs from pre-Game tailgate parties.
But while the Great Keg Prohibition of 2002 has proven itself a good candidate for repeal — sending a higher number of students than in 2000 to Harvard’s University Health Services for excess consumption from cans, bottles and hard liquor alone — the ban arguably helped limit the number of serious, life-threatening cases of alcohol poisoning. Something short of a success, the new policy, particularly in its impotence, lent credence to officials’ efforts.
Simply put, this year’s Game proved that for one day a year, couched between U-Hauls, nursed with college flasks and egged on by the windchill factor, there is a Harvard-Yale drinking problem. It is difficult to imagine the Harvard administration will claim victory because there were fewer near-fatalities this time around. But they do get a less satisfying “we told you so” when it comes to diagnosing — if not pre-empting — the problem.
In 2000, the last time the Game was held in Cambridge, four students went to the hospital with potentially fatal cases of alcohol poisoning. All ultimately recovered, but the University, attributing the “chaos” to the accessibility of kegs at pregame and tailgate parties, decided to do away with them for this year’s Game weekend.
Last month, in a column in The Crimson, Harvard’s daily newspaper, the college’s dean, Harry Lewis, argued in support of the University’s keg ban saying kegs encourage rapid excessive drinking. Officials did not expect the ban to end drunkenness, he said, just to help reduce it.
The Crimson reports that anywhere between seven and 30 students were treated for alcohol consumption, with at least two who were intubated at a local hospital. They reported no cases of alcohol poisoning, though. But many students still managed to drink themselves into a unrecognizable stupor, if not a near-catatonic one. The question administrators should be asking now is not how students get drunk — alcohol is alcohol, as it turns out — but what small changes will keep them safe.
Between friendly alumni with fur coats and fully stocked bars, the months and months of studying that lead up to the weekend, the quality of events on the field, and the cold, students seem to be resolutely reckless for Game weekend. Harvard was wise in moving their tailgates so students would not have to cross the street and risk being hit by cars. Maybe next year, they should provide cocoa or some solid food — always scarce and threateningly undercooked — to help soak up the liquor.